Monday, 17 May 2010

A History of the World in 100 Objects Returns for Second Series

Today has started with some great news as A History of the World in 100 Objects has returned for its second installment. I first came across this podcast in January when in it was going into its second week and I was hooked.

This BBC podcast is part of a collaboration with the British Museum and aims to recount the history of humanity using 100 object's from the Museum's collection's. 

The series, which is narrated by the Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor, is brodcast on Radio 4 each weekday with each episode being approx 15 minutes long and the complete series being aired in three sections with the second beginning today. The first part of the series was brocast in January-February and is still available to listen to online or download

"In these programmes, I'm travelling back in time, and across the globe, to see how we humans over 2 million years have shaped our world and been shaped by it, and I'm going to tell this story exclusively through the things that humans have made: all sorts of things, carefully designed, and then either admired and preserved, or used, broken and thrown away. I've chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey, from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card." says Neil MacGregor

"Telling history through things, whether it's an Egyptian mummy or a credit card, is what museums are for, and because the British Museum has collected things from all over the globe, it's not a bad place to try to tell a world history. Of course, it can only be 'a' history of the world, not 'the' history. When people come to the museum they choose their own objects and make their own journey round the world and through time, but I think what they will find is that their own histories quickly intersect with everybody elses, and when that happens, you no longer have a history of a particular people or nation, but a story of endless connections."

The BBC blog reports "A difference between this and the first part of the series is that you will have more time to explore the world in a particular slice in time. Across the next eight weeks the objects will often reflect on larger, broader themes and issues that run across this history. These include how political leaders should rule and represent their power; how religions visualise their deities and ideals; and the potency of even apparently mundane objects to unlock secrets of the past."

Along with the brodcast the BBC have set up a website A History of the World where images of the objects can be viewed in close up and you can watch short videos of many of the objects.

The site also highlights Museums from around the country which have chosen objects from their own collections that reflect world history from each area's perspective. Over three hundred and fifty museums are already registered on the site and even Schools and individuals have also joined in the project uploading images.

If you have an interest in History or even if you don't this is a podcast worth having a look at.

Friday, 7 May 2010

What will you do when the oil runs out?

Just when will oil supplies run out and what will you do when it does? It's a question I've asked myself many times but I've never been able to find a clear answer anywhere. Of course if you feel like being pedantic the oil will never actually run out but that is only because the cost of exploration and production will become prohibitive forcing the use of alternative forms of energy.

Since the 1970s there have been warnings that oil supplies are running out and although there are those who reply that there is plenty of oil left the overwhelming opinion seems to be that it could be sooner rather than later.

The issue has become clouded by claims that many countries are grossly over estimating their reserves either for political or economic reasons. Add in other factors like the giant Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia which is now apparently producing water rather than oil (although it still produces about 5m barrels a day) or that Iraq is producing only two-thirds what it did and that Iran is producing well below potential. This reduction in production though is far overshadowed by the increasing demands made on the oil supplies by the growing economies of developing countries like China and India.

The latest estimates I've found put it at about 30-40 years worth but this is a balance between the known reserves which have peaked, improvements in technology which means being able to bring more up and the new fields which are being opened. 

But therein lies a major problem. Most of these new fields which were previously uneconomic and have now become viable because of rising demand and increased prices are in places were there is increased risk to the environment.

One just has to look the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent oil leak which currently threatens unprecedented environmental damage and destruction of an ecosystem from Louisiana to Florida on which the livelyhoods of thousands depend. Predictably opponents have come out saying this was a disaster waiting to happen and, because of the conditions and risk, drilling should not have been allowed there in the first place but new fields need to be tapped and with drill sites like Deepwater Horizon now feasible... well...

In the push for new sources of oil Canada has permitted the exploitation of its tar sands which is not only devastating the local environment but the extraction of the tar oil is creating more carbon emissions than Belgium and it has been estimated that jet fuel refined from the bitumen creates a carbon footprint over 200 per cent greater than equivalent crude.

It is not only for reasons of climate change that alternative sources of energy need to be explored and brought on line soon.

Oil is a finite resource. The cost of finding new sources is hitting the pockets of everyone. Increased oil prices mean increases in transport costs and production costs. It means that food prices go up... heating costs go up... etc. Many areas of farming have become highly mechanised in order to produce foodstuffs at affordable prices but what happens when farmers can't afford to buy the diesel to run the farm machinery?

Next time you fill up your tank don't just think of the taxes government are taking but think about what its costing the environment to bring it to the forecourt and what you would do if it wasn't there.